Identification of woman, infant could take weeks

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

MODESTO, Calif. -- Investigators said Tuesday that it will take days or even weeks to determine whether the body of a woman that washed up on a Northern California shoreline is that of Laci Peterson, the expectant mother who disappeared on Christmas Eve.

The body and that of an infant boy were found a few miles from the Berkeley marina where Peterson's husband told police he had gone fishing on Christmas Eve. The Modesto woman was due to give birth to a boy in February.

Modesto police said they could not reveal any information while authorities in Contra Costa County, where the body was found, perform DNA tests. It could be weeks before the corpses are identified.

Contra Costa County sheriffs' spokesman Jimmy Lee said there was "no obvious cause of death," and authorities do not yet know whether there is any relationship between the woman and the baby, whose bodies were found about a mile apart.

Peterson was 27 when she was last seen. Her husband, Scott, said he went fishing at Berkeley Marina after she left their home that morning to walk the dog.

Peterson has been questioned but never named as a suspect. He admitted in January that he had an affair with another woman last year but denied any role in his wife's disappearance.

The adult body was found Monday in Richmond, about 90 miles northwest of Modesto and three miles north of the marina. The baby's body was found Sunday with his umbilical cord still attached.

An independent forensic pathologist examined the woman's body for four hours Monday night. Contra Costa officials said they have contacted an "eluviation" expert -- someone who studies how water affects corpses -- to determine roughly how long the bodies were in the water.

"At best, we can get answers within several days, at worst it might take several weeks or even longer," Lee said.

Peterson's family issued a statement Tuesday in which they described their ordeal as "a constant nightmare."

"These past three and a half months have been a constant nightmare for us," the family said. "This waiting is the worst."

Scott Peterson's attorney, Kirk McAllister, said his client was "very concerned and broken up at the prospect that it might be his wife."

With no word on whether the search had ended, residents in Modesto watched the news and waited. Again, the disappearance had become the talk of the town in this city of about 180,000 people.

"In the gym, in school, in here, it's all anyone talks about," Joey Smith, 21, a former neighbor of the Petersons, said as he got his hair cut downtown. "I hope it's not her, but it doesn't look good."

Peterson's disappearance is the latest in a string of missing person cases in Modesto.

In 1999, the city was home to the command post in the search for three tourists who vanished on a trip to Yosemite National Park. Two years ago, Modesto native Chandra Levy disappeared in Washington, D.C., and investigators probed the romantic relationship she had with hometown Rep. Gary Condit. Her remains were found May 22 in a park, and police have yet to find her killer.

"It's very difficult not knowing and every time something like this comes through, we expect some resolution," said Georgia Anderson, owner of a women's clothing boutique. "With another event like this, each time, it just makes the town's pain more difficult."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: